Teen suicide is a tragic topic that seems to be everywhere these days. From shows like “13 Reasons Why” to stories we read about on the news about young men and women who’ve ended their lives, culturally we are faced with this alarming problem in a big way. On a local level, Utah has one of the highest rates of teen suicides in the nation. What’s more is that this epidemic knows no gender, race, or socioeconomic demographic: teenagers across the spectrum are at-risk.
So what can we do? How can we combat this problem and equip ourselves and our kids with the knowledge to fight this devastating act? Here are a few strategies to help us prevent suicide:
Know The Red Flags
Individuals who are contemplating suicide often display certain behaviors, such as giving away prized possessions, having crying spell, or talking about suicide. If your child shows any of these signs, avoid “freaking out” (as this can make them more uncomfortable and more likely to shut down), but take these signs seriously and don’t ignore them. You can view these red flags as ways that your child is crying out for help and a sign that you need to intervene.
Don’t Avoid The Subject
It’s not a comfortable topic to broach, but teens who are struggling with feelings of self-harm can’t be helped by those who refuse to talk about it. Even just being able to say the word “suicide” is important. Some parents may fear that bringing up the topic may give their child ideas, but research shows the opposite is true: speaking openly about suicide doesn’t encourage the act at all but instead helps a struggling individual know that there is help and other ways to solve their problems.
Ask The Right Questions
While it’s crucial to be able to talk about the subject, we also need to ask the right kinds of questions. I encourage parents to be direct and ask things like, “do you ever feel like life isn’t worth living anymore?” or “have you ever felt like hurting yourself?” These are very tender questions, but we need to give our children permission to admit these delicate feelings (if they have them). Again, you won’t be putting ideas into their head, but will instead be allowing them space to open up to you if they are struggling.
As parents, we want to think that we’re always the safest place, but sometimes your child may be more comfortable talking to someone else. If you sense that they may be struggling with feelings of self-harm or suicide, tell them that you want to set them up to talk to someone that they’re comfortable with. This could be another trusted adult, or it may be a mental health professional. Don’t let the shame of the subject keep your child from getting the help he/she needs; find someone else for them to talk to if it will help them be able to open up.
If you suspect your teen is struggling, consider contacting a counselor at Wasatch Family Therapy for help.